By Mauri Elbel :: Photography by Mark Menjivar
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft, and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen.”
These famously-quoted and eloquently written words from British journalist and author Caitlin Moran couldn’t be a more fitting way to describe what the Patrick Heath Public Library means to the quaint community of Boerne.
“For this community, this is the one space that allows anybody to use it,” says Kelly Skovbjerg, library director. “People come here to hold meetings. People come to study and socialize. There’s a middle school across the street and we have 100-plus school kids here every day after school. On any given day, we have anywhere from 600-700 people here on average.”
Those are big numbers for little Boerne, a bucolic Hill Country town of 14,000. But folks come from all around Bexar County and the surrounding pint-sized towns of Comfort, Kerrville and Bandera to visit the 30,000-square-foot library tucked in the heart of Boerne and set back on one of the last remaining green spaces on the town’s Main Street.
“When people drive up, they are very surprised when they walk in the door,” says Skovbjerg. “It is surprising for a town of this size to have this large of a library and such a vast amount of resources.”
On the outside, the contemporary, glass-surrounded structure designed by O’Neill Conrad Oppelt Architects (now known as OCO LPA) is an architectural stand out that coalesces harmoniously with its picturesque Hill Country setting dotted with live oaks and landscaped with native plantings. The modern design, defined by expansive windows, indigenous limestone and reclaimed regional longleaf pine on both the interior and exterior, connects the structure to its surroundings and allows natural light and rolling Hill Country views to pour in from multiple spaces and levels. The LEED Gold Certified library, completed in 2011, features sustainable materials spanning desks crafted from recycled sunflower seed husks to flooring made from recycled materials while the structure’s site orientation effectively maximizes on natural light and shading to reduce energy usage. An interpretive area located at the north end of the building includes a windmill, water tank and historic smokehouse that allows people to enjoy the natural beauty of the site, and just last year, an amphitheater was added behind the property.
Named after Patrick Heath, who served as Boerne’s mayor from 1987-2007 and was a strong advocate for libraries, the library’s mission is to open doors to people of diverse backgrounds and needs and to enrich lives and equip people with unique opportunities to engage and connect in a global society.
“Our overriding goals are lifelong learning — to be able to provide resources and space for people to learn throughout their life, to offer those kinds of resources that allow people to be entertained, and to provide a space to connect and a quiet place to study and read,” says Skovbjerg.
Through its expansive adult, youth and family programming, wealth of resources and impressive services, there is no doubt the library is fulfilling its mission. Just as astounding as the visual design that meets the eye on the outside is what unfolds inside the stunning structure on a daily basis.
“We have a little bit of everything — 50,000 plus physical resources ranging from DVDs, audio books and printed books, plus thousands of digital resources,” says Skovbjerg. “We have eight different places that people can rent to have meetings, ranging from conference rooms to community rooms to study rooms.”
There are also up to eight different book clubs for adults going on at all times covering diverse genres ranging from mystery to nonfiction, and heaps of children’s programs that occur almost daily, explains the library director. Various story times are geared to babies through 5-year-olds and occur throughout the week. After school programs take place every school day except Thursdays — kids can participate in robotics on Mondays, fitness programs on Tuesdays, Spanish and French clubs on Wednesdays and beginning ballet on Fridays. All of the programs are free to attend and open to the public. Older students can take advantage of the library’s wealth of resources and databases such as tutor.com, which allows them to connect with online tutors for homework assistance, job help, GED prep and more for free. The library also features a teen area geared to grades 6 and above where monthly clubs ranging from crafting and photography to writing and anime take place.
A slew of enriching and exciting programs and events are already underway for the summer months, built around the library’s 2017 theme “Build A Better World” and designed to appeal to all ages, from children’s performers brought in each Monday to teen and adult programs. Online reading tools allow visitors to track the books they read and earn points for coming to the library throughout the summer.
“In small towns, especially, libraries are very important,” says Skovbjerg. “They are a community hub. It’s the only place a person can go and be fully welcomed in and stay all day. A library is only as good as its community.”
For more information on the Patrick Heath Public Library including hours and programs, visit www.boernelibrary.org.